Orson Scott Card’s Ender Series


Orswon Scatt Card’s first sold science fiction story was the basis for what continues to be his best-known novel, Ender’s Game. , published almost 30 years ago, even though he’s been a very good and prolific writer since.
In an introduction written several years later Card says that most people who read the novel either loved or hated it. I’m one of the ones who loved it. Those who didn’t hated the way he portrayed young children. Card said he thought this portrayal was the truest aspect of the book, but others might find that debateable.
The background of the novel is an alien race threatening human survival. To meet this threat the world has united, more or less, under something fairly close to a universal authority, however unwillingly. The military, expecting an alien invasion (there have been two previous ones), recruit children to be trained as soldiers, starting as early as age six, or so. This is the basic premise of the novel, and while such a threat might lead to that, it’s also debateable. But our culture tends to protect children (with certain gruesome exceptions) more than others, so maybe this premise is more believable than those of some other novels.
Card has found this theme fruitful. He followed the initial novel with stories about what Ender did after the war with the aliens, then started another series with a novel set at the same time but from a different perspective. That series continues with what happens on earth after the war.
One important theme in the initial novel and its parallel, Ender’s Shadow, is bullying. Ender and Bean (protagonist of the parallel novel) handle this in different ways.
Ender is first seen in his family home being bullied by his older brother, who is a borderline sociopath. As the story opens he has been wearing a monitor so the military authority can follow him in his daily activities and determine if he’s suitable for military training. When they remove the monitor students from his school try to bully him. He fights their leader, knocks him down and kicks him several times. Military officers appear shortly after. They want to know why he kicked the boy he had already beaten. Ender says that he didn’t want to win this battle, but prevent himself from being bullied again. This is the answer they want to hear, and they take him from his family into the military and training in an artificial earth satellite. Soldiers may sometimes be called on to take provocation without response, but that’s not the dominant characteristic desirable in that field. In war winning is demanded, not losing gracefully, and rarely refusing to fight.
Bean is first seen living on the streets of Rotterdam at the age of four. He’s hungry, and sees a group of children led by a 9 year old girl, and suggests a better way to get into the free kitchen that feeds children in particular.
Life on the street is dangerous because of predators, and the most dangerous are the older children, often in their teens, who can easily bully the young ones. Bean suggests to the girl leading the group that they need their own bully to protect their place in line. He points out one such older boy, the children attack him and put him on the ground, and threaten to kill him if he doesn’t help them. The boy does, calling them his family, and starts a new fashion. Suddenly the bullies have no status without a family to protect.
But Achille, the boy Bean and the others choose, is more than just a bully. He can’t stand for anyone to see him humiliated, and eventually kills anyone who does. He kills the girl who was the former leader, and wants to kill Bean, but Bean escapes him. A nun takes him under wing, and because he’s extremely intelligent he too goes to the satellite for military training.
This training is partly academic, but the central part of the training is a game in free-fall in which one team must defeat another, and capture the other team’s goal. Ender turns out to be especially good at this, causing a lot of jealousy. As he gets better and better, the military authority changes the game, forcing him and his team to pay more and more games, some of them with handicaps. Ender becomes exhausted trying to keep up, as does his team.
In his anger, he humiliates the captain of another team, who is enraged, and comes after Ender with his friends. He’s honorable enough to fight Ender alone, and Ender kills him, as he had the previous bully on earth. Ender is then send to Command school, several years early. We find out afterwards that the commanders in control of the training center had foreseen the attack, but elected not to intervene. Ender had to know that if he failed no one would save him.
In the Command school he is tutored, learns how to maneuver spaceships by computer and set to playing computer simulations of battles. He wins all of them, but the tension is tremendous, and both he and his team are pushing exhaustion.
They overcome their exhaustion for one last baqttle, in which they’re heavily outnumbered, but win by getting close enough to the planet the enemy fleets are trying to protect and destroying it with a horrifying new weapon.
At this point they discover that what they thought had been computer simulations were actual battle sagainst the alien race, which is now utterly destroyed. The race is one of intelligent insects, organized like ants, with a queen directing all individuals, and perceiving everything that the individuals perceive. But when the queen dies, so do all her subordinates.
Ender and most of his team are exhausted after the last battle, and after it the various nations of earth begin maneuvering to gain power and to grab these young genius commanders to command THEIR armies. resuming the game of aggression against other countries. Some try to take over the Command school, but are rebuffed.
Ender stays there, unwilling to return to earth to be constantly in danger of being kidnapped and forced to lead armies. He’s had enough of killing. He has won his victories because his empathy enabled him to know what the enemy would try next. Without that empathy and intuition he would never have won; with it, victory almost destroys him. He realizes that the aliens had no idea that humans were intelligent beings. Being telepathic, they had no other way to communicate, so were unable to negotiate with humans. Humans, feeling their survival was at stake, destroyed them.
Ender has been taken from his family at a very early age he misses only his older sister, who always loved him and tried to defend him from his older brother. She comes to him at the Command school, and both of them ride the first ship of immigrants to one of the worlds now left empty by the aliens.
When they arrive there Ender goes exploring, and finds a landscape familiar to him. But how could he find anything familiar on an alien world he has been on less than a year? The alien race was telepathic, and they had been trying to understand him. While he was unable to talk with them telepathically, they were able to pick up things from his mind. The scene is from a video game he had often played. When he explores the scene more closely he finds a group of eggs of the aliens. No adults are left, but if Ender can put the eggs in a place where they can survive he will no longer be guilty of genocide. He takes the eggs and waits his chance.
Bean has no family. He remembers being in a facility of some sort with a lot of other very young children, becoming aware that they were all being killed, and hiding in a toilet tank to survive. He manages to survive on the street until rescued by the nun who arranges for him to enter the military school. There he’s successful and becomes one of Ender’s friends.
Both Bean and Ender are individuals, but Ender is the more alone because he’s the one who has to be in command, and the responsibility is crushing. He was born in a fairly normal family, but that was taken away from him. In that sense, Bean is more alone, but doesn’t experience the loneliness of supreme command. And at the end of the novel he’s reunited with the family he actually came from, that he didn’t know he had. Ender is reunited with his sister, rather than the rest of his family.
At the beginning of the next series, which tells what Ender did after the war, and after humans have begun spreading through the galaxy and settling planets, Card says in his introduction that in science fiction most heroes are adolescent rather than adult. By this he means that the hero comes to save people, but doesn’t belong to their community, and usually leaves once the action is over. Perhaps the hero is usually greater than any other member of the community, and can’t find understanding or companionship in the community he (usually not she) saves.
Perhaps that’s a reflection of our general desire for a hero to save us not only from the evil of others, but from ourselves. A reflection, if true, of our general social immaturity. It doesn’t matter the system of government: the most successful government is one headed by a charismatic leader. That’s the one people love to follow, and most charismatic people are delighted to take leadership, but often without concern for the actual good of their followers.
Some are reluctant, though, in real life as much as in fiction. Not that their reluctance is necessarily based on good reasons either. Humans are often reluctant to do anything they don’t feel like doing, and making difficult decisions, especially if you have any scruples, is often not much fun. Thus it’s easier for Congress to deadlock than to produce real solutions to serious problems. While their country’s situation grows worse they can look like, but not actually be, leaders, and in the meanwhile enjoy their perks.
Ender is tempted at least twice to forget the war and quit being a soldier-in-training. Much is demanded, and little return is given. But he eventually sees that he really IS his species only hope of defense against the alien race, which threatens everything he loves. In the end that picture proves not to be entirely accurate either, but no one is able to get all information before acting. All information is never available before the fact, and there’s never enough time to consider everything.
Card says in his introduction to Speaker of the Dead that he wanted to show the importance of family, and a family in the process of transforming. In the novel Ender, in only 20 years of traveling between the stars has, because of the difference between time when traveling at nearly the speed of light and time on the surface of a planet, removed himself several thousand years from the alien invasion, though to himself he seems only about 35 years old. He has visited many planets, and has taken on a new role, one conditioned by his own experience, and the incomprehension by all but a few of what his actual role had been, and what he’d tried to do.
He has contributed to this misunderstanding himself. Within a few years of the end of the war he had written a book considering the war from the point of view of the alien race that had attacked humanity. He had been a hero for having destroyed that threat, but his book is so powerful that people (and especially those who hadn’t been alive during the war) now think he committed the worst genocide in human history. He doesn’t entirely disagree, and wants to make things right in any way he can.
So he conceives of a new way to commemorate death, unlike the usual sort of funeral. Instead of calling the dead person wonderful in every respect, he researches his or her life to find out just who this person was, just what he or she tried to do, how he or she succeeded or failed, and what he or she would want to be remembered for. Card thinks this a good idea worth practicing, and I can’t disagree.
In this novel another intelligent alien race is involved. They’ve been very cautiously studied for several decades, and very little about them has been learned. And they’ve murdered two of the people studying them in a very gruesome way for no obvious reason. Humans have learned enough not to attack an alien race, even under such a provocation, but these are beings obviously as intelligent as human beings, though not on the same technological level. When no one even asks them why they did what they did, they are reduced to the status of children at best.
What they did turns out not to have been intentional murder, but an attempt to honor the people they unintentionally murdered, based on their very different life-cycle and mode of reproduction.
A very troubled girl has become close to the first of the murder victims, and when he dies it’s because of information that she had turned up. She therefore buries the information as deeply as possible to prevent anyone else she loves from dying. Unfortunately, the second murdered person is also someone she loves.
This burial of the truth and the pain it has caused has had a deleterious effect on her husband and children. Her husband dies, and she and her children are further stricken and isolated. Ender comes to their world to discover exactly what’s been going on, which no one has had the courage to discover, and speaks about the woman’s dead husband.
He had been a doomed man because of disease, and had married the woman because she had been the only person to defend him when he was being bullied by other children. But because of his disease, theirs had not been a true marriage, and none of the children were actually his. He had become a drunk, had beaten his wife, but rarely or never his children, and had stayed in a marriage he could have escaped. Despite his imperfections, he had behaved, in some respects, heroically. Ender’s speech about him goes a great distance towards healing his family, and also leads to the resolution of the problem with the aliens.
This aspect of the novel reminds me of the remark of another writer: the truth will set you free, but only after all falsehood is destroyed, a process so agonizing for most of us that we can’t do it by ourselves, and are rarely willing to do it at all.
There’s a great deal of moral weight behind Card’s words. He’s a religious man, a Mormon, and that obviously informs his work. I can’t claim to agree with him in everything, though I usually agree with most of what he says in his novels. Outside his novels we disagree politically, though. Mormons are very conservative, and he looks at things much more from the conservative point of view than I do, though apparently conservatives often don’t like his work.
I was brought up a Quaker, a group in some ways conservative, but not so conservative in others. Card supported the war in Iraq (but I think now concedes it was a mistake), while I did not. He also seems to have less use for President Obama than I do (though I don’t consider Obama perfect either), but these are fairly superficial differences.
I think it would be fair to say that Card wants to entertain, knowing, for one thing, that his writing will accomplish little if no one wants to read it, but he also has things to say that he wants people to hear. Perhaps it would be fair to say that he has to sugar-coat what he says a bit to get people to hear. It would probably be more accurate to say that he’s trying to tell us stories about how we really are (as far as he can see), which many people will find at least superficially interesting, rather than pushing some political or religious agenda which has more to do with power politics than the truth of human life. I think it might also be fair to say that Card does have an agenda, but that it’s a very human agenda. His power is to get people to listen, and it turns out he has interesting and important things to say. His agenda is to say those things as well as he can, rather than order people to agree and follow him.


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